I’m from Ohio, visiting California. It’s time for me to get out of Los Angeles, so I’ve decided to hop on the bike and check out the Angeles Crest Highway to see what all the fuss is about.
I’m only a few miles up the road from the start of the Angeles Crest Highway, at the La Cañada Flintridge exit off Interstate 210 in northern L.A., and already I’m on a world-class road. If you like your roads tight and technical, this run through the San Gabriel Mountains is the place to be.
Down at the start, you’re in the land of stoplights and traffic. But you forget that in minutes. The two-lane road chases tight turns as it rises into the Angeles National Forest, climbing from an elevation of around 1,500 feet in La Cañada to about 7,900 feet 46 miles away, at Dawson Saddle.
While many sport bikers come here to test the limits of tire lean, I’m enjoying the sights in a relaxed, V-twin way. I’m rewarded with majestic views of distant snow-capped mountains, and a small snow-melt waterfall cascading off the sheer rock wall next to me.
Originally built as a working road connecting power line towers over the San Gabriel range in the 1920s, Angeles Crest obviously was laid out by someone who enjoyed the scenery. Pullouts abound, and you can find expansive vistas of the San Gabriel and Pomona valleys, plus the Mojave Desert.
I park at one lookout, and as I walk to the ledge, my boot kicks something plastic. I pick it up—it’s part of a broken sport-bike fairing, a reminder that if you’re not careful on the twisty Angeles Crest, you can suffer the consequences.
A few miles later, I come upon Newcomb’s Ranch Inn, a mecca for Angeles Crest riders. Even on this Friday afternoon, the place is packed with bikes, as motorcyclists take a break from the road to grab a bite to eat. I get a BLT and plop down at one of the outdoor tables and dig the scene. With the lot jammed with colorful bikes and riders, there’s a lot to like here.
Well fed, I mount back up and continue east, still heading away from L.A. Rounding a corner, I get a great view of snow-capped Cloud Burst Summit, elevation 7,018 feet, then roll through two tunnels separated by about 20 feet of open road.
About the time I’m appreciating the difficulty of building this road, I get a vivid reminder that it’s a pretty serious challenge keeping it open, too. I round another corner to find snow next to the road and fallen boulders the size of watermelons scattered across the pavement.
I pick my way past the boulders to discover that the rest of the road is completely closed. Whether it’s from snow pack or rock slides, I’m not sure. As it turns out, back-tracking isn’t such a bad thing, because it leads me to another great L.A.-area road: the Angeles Forest Highway.
While Angeles Crest follows the spine of the mountains, Angeles Forest heads north, dropping through sweeping valleys for 25 miles toward Vincent, on the edge of the desert. And it’s a thrilling ride, to be sure.
When I make the turn onto Angeles Forest, the pavement immediately improves, and I’m served up an appetizer of slow, blind corners, then a heaping plate of continuous sweepers, with an occasional hairpin thrown in to keep me on my toes. Within the first few miles, I’m already adding it to my “Favorite Roads of All Time” list.
Long views of narrow canyons mark the route, and, as I drop in elevation, the temperature rises. Soon, the sparse pines give way to yellow wildflowers lining the narrow rock canyon walls. Then I start climbing again.
I lean through a sweeper, twist the throttle to get some speed on a straight, hit another sweeper, then twist the throttle onto another straight.
I enjoy cruiser nirvana for the entire length of the road, until I’m unceremoniously returned to reality at the intersection of California Route 14, an expressway that heads north into the desert.
North I go, to see what adventure is next. I’m in no rush to return to L.A.